Thursday, August 20, 2009

A friend ( sent me a video about performance pay for teachers based on a "value-added" approach. This is my reply...
Don't get me started. Too late, I am starting....The performance evaluation question isn't likely to find an answer at all. Of course teachers should be paid based on how well they do their jobs; shouldn't everyone? (CEO's? How about THEM apples?) But looking for a quantifiable basis for performance evaluation in teachers is a Snark Hunt of the first order. The problem, I think, lies in our world view which is dominated by tropes of money and science (think of all scientific formulae in the video, or the use of the term "value-added" which is straight out of manufacturing). These are very good lenses in their proper areas (business, say, or medicine) but they have a deeply distorting effect on education. The value of an education (I can't even talk about it without resorting to that monetized word "value") cannot be measured by the tools of science and business, because the things that an education should carry, must carry, go so far beyond so-called "basic skills" and beyond anything testable.

On some level, "education" isn't synonymous with "school"; "education" is really synonymous with "childhood." As a father of three, I can see that only a very small part of what my children learn comes through school. As a high school teacher, I see the same thing: the most interesting prior learning my students bring to the table is almost never from school, but from life.

Here is what school does do, and I think this is more or less true even of a pretty weak school: it provides a structured and limited environment for the learning of skills that cannot easily be absorbed by our spongelike childhood brains without some repetition, some discipline, and the partial elimination of the blooming buzzing wondrous confusion of daily life. By doing that it sets us up with some extra tools for living and learning—but we still have to do most of that on our own.

But instead we look to (and credit or blame) schools for children's entire success or failure at life. And in private—excuse me—"independent" schools, the monetizing side, the "mere cash nexus" of education can be particularly vile and open, because of the nature of the transaction. The sense is that by shelling out $80,000 or more over a period of years, one should be guaranteed a successful "product," usually in the form of admission to a prestigious college, which in turn will (through the infusion of even more ridiculous amounts of money) lead to a successful (i.e. moneymaking) adulthood. The spiritual poverty of this entire view of education is hard to bear. And to be fair, almost all individual parents, when speaking and thinking of their own particular children, have a deeper, richer, and more intuitive hopes and dreams about what education and life might hold for them. But these individual aspirations are completely lacking from collective and public discourse about education and schools.

I could go on... and on... and on. But I will stop. For now....

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I like this graphic. Something about the way it suggests that there is a tidiness to knowledge is appealing. Of course it is easy to dismiss it as simplistic or naive. But the thing about knowledge is that it is kind of limited and limiting. Maybe this schematic is simplistic, but the idea that raw knowledge can be systematized isn't really. It's just that knowledge by itself isn't really that useful or important.